GIPPSLAND dairy farmers heard the latest in farming innovation from leading pasture researcher Brian Patchett, Rabobank dairy analyst Michael Harvey and dairy farmer/pasture agronomist Peter Notman.
More than 300 dairy farmers attended two evenings in Leongatha and in Warrnambool, hearing from Mr Patchett about some of the latest developments in the use of plant endophytes, otherwise known as plant fungi, to protect pastures from pests.
Dr Patchett, the Innovations and Technology development manager for the New Zealand-based Cropmark Seeds, told the pasture innovation evening in Leongatha about Cropmark’s latest plant varieties that include Barrier perennial ryegrass variety with pest-repellent endophyte.
“With endophytes, we have an opportunity to protect plants in an environmentally sustainable way,” Dr Patchett said.
He said endophyte fungi grew on plants in a symbiotic relationship, protecting them from pests such as field crickets, drought and other environmental issues.
Peter Notman, whose company Notman Pasture Seeds has worked closely with the development, said the Barrier forage grass was for use where insect pests are a serious threat to the productivity and persistence of your pastures.
“We’ve seen the Barrier tolerate insect attack in paddocks traditionally destroyed by insect pests in the past. It’s also been highly palatable,” Mr Notman said.
“We normally sow the Barrier at 35kg/ha, and recommend it be sown in one to two paddocks max,” Mr Notman said.
As part of the symbiotic relationship, the plant provides the endophyte with nutrition.
The endophytes are transferred from one generation of a plant to the next not by soil or air, but by infecting the plant’s seed.
Dr Patchett said seed varieties with endophytes, mainly in perennial ryegrass, had been sold commercially for about 20 years and Cropmark had developed a market niche with endophytes that produced the loline alkaloid, which deterred pests but was not toxic to livestock.
The loline producing endophytes could deter a wide range of insects, including field crickets, African black beetle adults and larvae and red-headed cockchafer.
“They (the endophytes) protect from root-eating insects and foliage-eating insects,” Dr Patchett said.
He said his company was continuing to collect endophytes that deterred insects but were good for livestock consumption.
The naturally occurring endophytes had evolved with grasses over the past 50 million years or so, Dr Patchett said.
Adam Fisher of Notman Seeds said the tough time in the dairy industry has seen farmers place a stronger focus on pasture productivity and persistence.
“If you haven’t got good pasture, you cannot grow good home-grown feed, and good home-grown feed is the cheapest source of feed,” Mr Fisher said.
Leading industry dairy analyst Michael Harvey from Rabobank said after a year to forget 2017 should see a return to profitability.
“In 2017 we should see a better open/full-year price, favourable input prices and greater competition for milk.”
Successful pasture innovation evenings